Just Write. That’s the Bottom Line.

I recently wrote a post about outlining in novel writing and how I’m not a huge fan. Of course, there is always a time for outlining, and I do tend to use it sometimes.

I’ve been trying to outline book three of my trilogy since I know how I want it to end. I just figured it might be easy to plot everything out and get where I need to be. Right? Simple!

Forget all of that. I finally arrived at the point where I am doing too much thinking and not enough writing. So yesterday, I scraped the outlining idea. Be gone, bullet points!

It’s time to write. It’s time to power through on the ideas that I do have and trust in my process.

And that’s the key. If you have a writing process that has worked for you in the past, trust it. Let’s use a baseball analogy. I’m a big baseball fan, and every hitter goes through a slump. Sometimes an extended slump and it can be disconcerting. They start doubting their swing and their mechanics. Should they start tinkering with what has worked in the past? Should they try and find a new silver bullet? One of the players I follow has been horrible for the past three weeks, but I keep reading how he just remains confident, keep working hard on all aspects of the game in which he can control, do the things which have brought him success in the past, and just wait for the resurgence to come. It has, by the way.

Isn’t writing the same? It is for me. Just write. That’s always been my motto. Let the story unfold. Let the story — the written story — tell you where it should go next. Don’t force it. Let if flow.

That’s what I’m doing. I just finished chapter 1 of book three. I really like it. It is going to help set the tone for what’s to come. Now, I know what chapter 2 will do. That will lead me to chapter 3 and, hopefully, before I know it, I’ll be writing the ending that I know I want.

While outlining and pausing writing to think can be helpful, it should never replace the actual writing. I have been reminded of that this week.

Now get to it. Chapter 2, here I come.

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Time + Thinking = The Solution to All Writing Problems

It’s not always easy to know which way a story should go.

Should minor characters begin to play a more major role?

Should a character be killed off?

Should I change the setting?

Story threads are fragile. Each minor decision can send a story spiraling in a direction that may or may not be good.  As a writer, it’s impossible to explore every plausible avenue or nothing would ever get done.

I have found, however, that the right amount of time and a proper amount of thinking can solve even the trickiest writer’s problem.

My current issue revolves around part III of my new trilogy. Parts I and II flowed remarkably smooth. I finished part II in August 2017 and have been revising and editing it ever since, and it’s now about 6 weeks away from being released. Part III has proven to be more elusive. I know the ending. But the problem is how to get there.

My book has a rather large cast of main characters. The supporting cast is large and has played a significant role. In book two, I added a new main character to help support the story, but that has added additional challenges to an already unwieldy cast.

And so over these past few months, I’ve been trying out many different reiterations of what should happen in part III.

What I’ve come to realize is that if you put enough time into thinking through all the ramifications for each main idea, the path forward will slowly start to emerge. Just this morning, I reordered the first couple chapters, imagined a few new ideas and with some reworking, believe I now have a solid way forward which I didn’t have last week.

That’s progress.

It came through

1. TIME

Let the manuscript sit.  Don’t be too hasty to get it to the marketplace. Read it fresh after a month of not thinking about it. It will help bring clarity.

2. THINKING.

Sometimes you don’t need to write, you need to think.  Jot down a few ideas. Think. Jot down new idea. Think some more. How does it change things? Better? Worse? What are you overlooking?

And when you put proper TIME together with the right amount of THINKING, you’ll be on the road to solving your writing problem.

Don’t be afraid to slow it down.

BUT, once you figured it out, finish it! Without exception! Go! Go! Go!

Get it done and get it out in the marketplace.

Now on to the next.

 

 

Outline the Ending! Really?

I’ve been inundated with those Master Class video ads on social media lately. I’m sure you’ve seen them, and I have to admit, some of them certainly catch my eye. I was real curious to see what Ron Howard and Martin Scorsese said about film-making, and even their introductory videos were quite engaging.

Of course, there’s a bunch of well-known writers on there as well, and I am, as a writer, interested to hear what they have to say. I like to keep my options open. I like to learn and grow in my craft, but whenever someone says how important it is to do this or that when being a creative writer, I usually balk at it and tell them to slow down the bus!

Writing is different from film-making or some of the other arts because it’s so subjective. There’s no one formula. There’s no “best practices” which will insure success. Sure, there are some writing guidelines which may help, especially for young writers, but blanket statements are not that helpful.

One well-known writer on the Master Class videos said how important it is to outline. You must outline, outline, outline like crazy. Outline until the cows come home. Outline through all your holidays. Outline until you’re blue in the face, or until the next season of your favorite show comes out. OUTLINE!!!! Okay, I might be paraphrasing here.

But the point is, this particular writer emphasized how important outlining is. And in reply to that, I say hogwash!

It might be important to you. It’s obviously important to him. It’s not important to me. Now you might think to naturally side with him because he’s famous and rich and I’m not. That’s a valid point. But if I may, I content his outlining obsession has nothing to do with his success.

Here’s the problem I have with outlining. For me, it’s basically useless, because by the time I  hit the third chapter of my outline, the rest of my outline has no validity because I’ve changed the story so much since my original ideas.

Why?

Simple! Writing leads to new ideas. New writing leads to newer ideas. To think you can sit down and know the ending of a creative story before you actually start writing is rather preposterous. That’s like chaining yourself in and not allowing your ideas to grow as your story grows.

So if you do outline, I’d offer this advice. Don’t let the outline be the ultimate driver of where your story is going. Use it as a guide, but as your ideas develop, please feel free to change your outline. Please feel free to change your ending!

Just today, I completely revamped an ending to a play which I thought I had finished yesterday. But it wasn’t sitting right for me, so I had to go back and change it.

Now, with all that said, it doesn’t mean that I never outline. I do loosely outline at times when I think I see where the story is going. For example, on my new fiction trilogy, I do know the ending of book three. But I only know the ending because I already wrote book 1 and 2. When I was writing book 1, I didn’t even know how it would end. But now that I’ve written 2/3’s of the trilogy, it has become obvious to me what the ending must be. Great! No problem!

My ultimate point here is that there is not one correct way to write. It’s so personal and subjective. Do what you are comfortable with. Follow your passion and your story. Allow it mold and form what you want to say. Never allow preset guidelines to determine where your story must go.

You know where it’s supposed to go. It’s in your heart. You were made for this moment. Create and discover what you never thought possible.

Novel Writing: Time to Do the Heavy Lifting

I’m writing my first trilogy, and I must admit, the first 2/3s has come rather easily. Book one cruised by and set-up book two perfectly. Book two introduced some new characters and the adventure went farther, deeper, and more enjoyable than I could have anticipated. Even the ending flowed, setting up book three.

But now, well, I’ve just realized something. If I want this series to end in book three, which I do, then it’s time to do the heavy lifting. By heavy lifting, I mean I need to invest some serious amount of time into thinking, yes thinking, before I get back to writing.

I know the ending of the trilogy. It’s a no-brainer in my mind, but I sat down yesterday and did my first actual writing on book three, I realized that I got a lot of work to do if I’m going to tie all these lose ends together, because I have a lot of loose ends. This series has a plethora of related plots, which have worked well up to this point, and I am confident that they will work well through the ending, but admittedly, I don’t see it all yet.

Now some might call this writer’s block, but I think that’s nonsense. I have plenty of things to write about in this novel and I could go and whip off a chapter right now if I’d like. But, in my mind, this is the crucial moment. The moment of decision which is going to affect a reader’s overall view of this trilogy.

The problem is all about choices. There are so many choices to make. Here are a few:

When should the story pick up again? Immediately after book 2?  I think not. I need a new clever hook, and I have that, I believe. The new book will start in 1348 Europe, the Europe that’s being decimated by the black plague. Has my series had anything to do with that so far? No. That’s why I think it’s cool. A reader will start wondering what in the world this has to do with the plotline, but they will be rewarded, I, as the writer, must make sure of it. And I will.

But after my jaunt in time is finished, how do I pick up the lives of the main characters? Is it the next day? The next week? The next year? I’m currently leaning towards week.

If I choose week, what has transpired that the readers are going to need to know about? And how do I insert that situation? Should I isolate the main characters? Should I have them together? Each decision changes the way the book will flow.

What about the villains? Are they going to get away with it? Are they going to be tracked down? How? What surprises await them? What surprises await the readers?

Do all of my character’s actions feel justified by their motivation?

So I am at a writing crossroad, but before I choose, I must consciously weigh each path and then choose one. Will I ever know if I chose the right one or the wrong one? No. Writing is so subjective that it makes reading extremely subjective.

All I can do is do the proper heavy lifting in my mind and then hope for the best. Here goes.

A Look Back, A Look Ahead

Here’s what I was able to accomplish as a writer in 2017:

  • January Staged reading of “The Last Bastion” @ Penang Performing Arts Centre
  • Started a historical musical on a unique person in US history with a musician colleague of mine. This is a long-term project.
  • Finished editing and production aspects of the first book in my new trilogy: A Man Too Old for a Place Too Far – published it in  December
  • Finished the draft of book two of my new trilogy: The African Connection
  • Rewrote 6 sketches into a one act play called “The Folly of Progress.” Produced it as part of my show in May.
  • Wrote my third Christmas show, this one entitled “Tales of Christmas.” It was produced and performed by The RLT Players in December.
  • My play “Safe Spaces” was performed at the Gallery Players’ Black Box Festival in Brooklyn in June.
  • I was awarded the Greywood Arts Winter Writing Residency for 2018 for my play “The Last Bastion.”
  • I wrote an anti-bullying play entitled “Project B” for my new school.

I wrote my first baseball short story, “The Hundred Pitch At Bat” – more to come with this.

 

And 2018 writing goals …

  • Publish book two of my trilogy.
  • Write book three THE FORGOTTEN CHILD of my new trilogy.
  • Finish a play I started several years ago “EMBRACE”
  • Finish a play I started about Nat Turner.
  • Write a new show called “Crazy as Love” for my new drama group The Sun & Sand Players.
  • Write the book to my long-term musical.
  • Write more baseball stories which will eventually be an anthology of stories about a fictitious independent minor league baseball team.

This should get me started. I plan to do a lot of this during my winter writing residency in Ireland.

Happy New Year everyone. What are your writing goals?

 

 

Writers: You Can Only Control the Process, Not the Results

Every writer wants to sell more books.

Every writer wants to find more readers.

But if you are writing for the purpose of results, you’ll be frequently disappointed in this cut-throat, highly-competitive business.  The faster you realize that, as a writer, the only thing you control is the process, the faster you’ll be at peace with the results – whether good or bad.

I figured this out long ago. I began novel-writing and play-writing because I couldn’t contain the creativity that started bubbling over in my brain. It became my release and eventually my passion. When I eventually decided to start putting my works out in the public eye, I received a rude awakening – not because the results were bad, no, because the results were good.

My first novel started to sell some. Then reviews started coming in, positive reviews, and before I knew it my first novel had racked-up 80+ reviews on Amazon. I was floored and even thought quietly to myself that this isn’t so hard after all.

Ha. That’s when my rude awakening began to seep in. I suppose it was more gradual than rude, but it was certainly real nonetheless. Book two, for some reason, seemed more difficult to market. Then the rules changed at Amazon, and certain big promotion sites changed the way they did business. Everything got more competitive, and before I knew it, I had no idea how to sell books anymore.

Well, it turns out that I didn’t know in the first place. When I think back upon it, I have no idea how my first book did so well in getting reviews. Am I doing anything different now? Yes, actually. I’m better at marketing now. I work harder now. And has it led to more results?

Not really.

So what’s the deal? For me, the deal is that I don’t know how to sell books. But who cares!

Not me. I know what I can control and that’s my writing process.

So I ask myself these questions:

Am I writing the stories I want to tell?

Am I putting the proper time into revisions: 2nd, 3rd, 4th drafts?

Am I meticulous in the editing process?

Do I have an editor helping me improve my book?

Have I recruited beta readers to give me early feedback?

Am I purposeful when thinking about cover design and book layout?

Do I put time and effort into recruiting reviewers who will post honest reviews?

Do I market with variety in mind?

Am I trying new marketing avenues?

Am I adjusting to new trends and reading up on new developments?

Am I reading other blogs to get feedback about process and the book industry in general?

Am I striving to be better?

If I can answer “yes” to every one of those questions above, then I simply do not care about results because I can’t control them anyways.

I can, however, control the process. If I can look back without regrets and say that I’ve written the book I wanted to write and I marketed it in the absolute best way I know how, then I think it’s safe to say that I have successfully fulfilled the requirement of my passion for writing.

How about you? Are you concerned with results or process?

Are you feeling lucky, Photoshop?

I know. I know. I’m an author. Leave the design work for the professionals. And don’t EVER attempt to design your own book cover. Foolish, it is.

I agree with all of the above, and yet …

I can’t help but tinker.

When I use Photoshop, it’s 10% know-how, 30% You Tube videos, and 60% dumb luck! I have, at times, designed things which I consider acceptable. I’ve even had some people occasionally mention how my skills are getting better. But the reality is, Photoshop is a supped up 50s convertible and I approach it with a screwdriver made for eye glasses. It’s a bad miss match.

However, I’ve been getting lucky lately a little more often than I have in the past. I had toyed around with the design of my new book and I got to the place where I felt it was nearly acceptable. I received some feedback from folks, mostly positive, and kept messing with the minutia until I thought I was finished. I was even going to seek some professional help to clean it up and then design the book’s sequel. I had tried once to use the same template to create book 2 but it was disastrous, so I abandoned the idea.

Until about a week ago. For some reason, on a particularly creative and cocky day, I decided to work on book 2 again. And voila! Within a matter of 10 minutes, I got lucky. Perfect photo, edited into the background, I was amazed at how good it looked. It was in fact way better than the cover I thought was acceptable for book 1. This burst of creativity led me to try to create a cover for book 3, even though I haven’t written it yet. After another short period of creation, I had book 3, it looked fantastic, way better, in fact than that book 1. I was lucky again. Twice in one week.

That made me go back to the book 1 cover again and I started a redesign, one that I never would have thought of six months ago as I was designing it. One idea led to the next and I finagled enough luck out of my keyboard to substantially improve the cover for book 1.

So is it luck? Or am I getting better?

I’m convinced that’s it both. I’m not a good enough designer that I can set out with a goal in mind and make it happen. Oh no, those are the real artists. But I am at the point where I can take what I have, work with a bunch of scenarios until I will hopefully come across one combination which I will be satisfied with.

That’s where I am with Photoshop. I can easily spend three enjoyable hours cutting, erasing, editing, recoloring, combining, and importing all kinds of items in the search of the elusive good design. It’s a welcome respite from writing, a different type of creativity which is fun and challenging.

So whatever it is that you enjoy doing, even though you feel like an amateur, keep at it. You might find that you end up getting lucky more often than not. And soon you’ll realize that your luckiness is not the result of random accidents.

NOTE: I’ll be releasing these covers in the near future. Hope you like them.